The TCQ&A: “I Almost Invited Jon Stewart Over on Passover”

susan-bernfield-by-tribeca-citizenSusan Bernfield is the founder and artistic director of the Obie-winning downtown theater company New Georges. (Its current production, Milk by Emily DeVoti, just opened at Here in Soho.) She’s also a playwright; her play Stretch (A fantasia) just finished a run at People’s Light & Theatre in Malvern, Pa. She lives on Hudson Street with her husband, Claude Millman, and their two sons, ages 12 and 9.

How long have you lived in Tribeca?
Since May 1996.

landmarc-by-tribeca-citizenWhich restaurants do you frequent most often?
I love, love, love the Blaue Gans. That room has always been one of my favorites—I loved it in its two previous incarnations as well. It feels comfy and hip at the same time—it’s just right. And of course the food is so great, too—oh my god I’d go just for the potato salad…. I’ll come up with a whole list of places to eat, but somehow we always end up there. Same with the Odeon, actually. I’ll think I want to go farther afield but really I just want to go there and I’m happy. I’m also a big Landmarc fan and I’m so grateful for everything they do to make it possible to bring my picky kids. One time after a really crummy week, I picked up my kids on Friday afternoon and took ’em to Landmarc, and the servers just kept those five-buck bowls of Cap’n Crunch coming while I got through a half bottle of wine and a wonderful, civilized meal. Look, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Which restaurants do you tend to go to for special occasions?
The Harrison is the right step up for a lot of occasions, meaning I actually get it together to make a reservation! Bouley is pretty swell, but that’s not news.

Where do you order in (or get take-out) from? Are there dishes you always order?
I’ve got a family of unadventurous eaters so we’re boring order-inners. My two kids can’t even agree on pizza! I like Tokyo Bay, and they often go for Lili’s or Excellent Dumpling House. Nam or Roc if it’s just grown-ups.

Which shops do you find it hard to resist popping into when you pass by?
It used to be Macki, that clothing store on the north side of Reade. I haven’t quite found a replacement, alas. But boy if my kids were still little, looks like we’d be in trouble.

What was the last non-essential item you bought in Tribeca?
Damn, I think my skin stuff from Tribeca Beauty Spa has crossed the line into “essential”! I just had something framed for my mom at Steven Amedee, though, and it’s beautiful.

algorecake-resizeAre there any services (salon, fitness, etc.) that you’re particularly glad are in the neighborhood?
My kids tend to go a little crazy with birthday party themes, and thank god the people at Duane Park Patisserie never (quite) laugh when we bring our ideas in—they’ll put anything our kids’ nutty imaginations desire on a cake and it’ll be elegant and funny and delicious. You can’t call your Global Warming birthday a success till your cake features an impeccable chocolate Al Gore!

What’s Tribeca’s best-kept secret?
Not a secret in my world, but I’m never sure neighbors know—two of the city’s most innovative and exciting theater companies are in the ‘hood, Soho Rep on Walker and the Flea on White.

Where do you always take out-of-towners?
Blaue Gans, of course! And Smith & Mills, ’cause that bathroom’s its own tourist attraction. And people want to go to Nobu, and Bubby’s. And I like to just walk with out-of-towners, to see the obvious things but also the normal stuff, like school and the ball fields. People don’t get how we can have a normal life in the city, so sometimes I like to show ‘em.

140-franklin-by-tribeca-citizenWhich neighborhood building do you wish you lived in and/or owned?
140 Franklin [left]. We obsessed over it while it was being converted. I’ve never been inside, but I love the lobby and have dreams about those windows….

What’s your favorite part of Tribeca (street, park, whatever)?
Duane Street/Duane Park. I grew up in a suburban landscape, and the fact that I get to walk my kids through that every single morning on the way to school…. I doubt they even notice, but I do, and I feel really really lucky to spend my everyday life in such a great-looking place.

Your most memorable Tribeca celebrity sighting?
Maybe it’s everybody’s, but I used to see John Kennedy all the time. We saw him the day we moved in—he parked his car in the lot outside our window (we figured that was the Tribeca welcome wagon). I literally ran into him one night when I was clattering down N. Moore Street pushing home this noisy office chair we’d used as a prop (embarrassing if memorable!). I watched him jaywalk across Hudson from Jin Market on his crutches two weeks before he died. Being here after that was incredibly sad, not to mention one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. Sometimes the line of people waiting to walk past his apartment reached all the way to us at 90 Hudson! It was wild. Oh—I also ran into an unshaven, T-shirt-clad Jon Stewart with kid in stroller in the Food Emporium at just about dinner time on Passover. We were so clearly in the same boat, I almost invited him over! Awesome.

If you could change one thing about the neighborhood, what would it be?
We got docked for it in New York magazine, and I gotta say I agree—this was never the most diverse community in the city, but as its stock has risen it’s become even less so, economically and in every other way. I think that impacts our community’s reputation and our quality of life.

zuckers-by-tribeca-citizenWhat’s changed in Tribeca that you like? That you don’t?
I’m glad there are so many more services than there were when we moved here. When my 12-year-old was born, pre–Kings Pharmacy, you could barely get a diaper in the neighborhood, which now seems inconceivable. The Downtown Community Center is a huge plus: Friday night drop-off has become unmissable in my household. Big hooray for the restoration of cobblestones on Leonard and Harrison, and for Zucker’s [right]—that was a helluva lotta years without bagels—and Barnes & Noble. Then at the risk of sounding like a crotchety old-timer—ha!—I miss El Teddy’s, turning the corner and seeing that wacky landmark every day. The neighborhood lost a whole lot of funky when that went. And the old Pier 25 (is the new one really coming soon?): the sprinklers, the burgers, the utter non-slickness of it, it was such an idiosyncratic place, it really felt like you’d crossed the highway and left New York City as you knew it. I have to publicly confess, because I bring it up so often, that I’m not all on board with Whole Foods. It’s so damn big! It drives me kind of nuts that if I wanna pick up a tomato at the corner of Warren and Greenwich, I have to walk the length of my kid’s school to pay for it—twice as far for the short line! I have some values issues with that, but mainly I’m too busy and just considering it makes my feet hurt and clearly I’m not that committed a shopper. I also have to say that Sarabeth’s coming down here threw me for a loop. It feels like a certain kind of uptown to me, and a little ironic cause I always felt like Kitchenette and Bubby’s were kind of the cooler, calmer versions, the anti-Sarabeth’s. So that’s lots of funky lost, but I guess that’s happened in most neighborhoods. Even in Brooklyn!

Why Tribeca?
In 1988, my boyfriend (now husband) took his bar exam prep course at the BMCC. I used to pick him up there in the car on Friday nights so we could go away for the weekend. We’d pass P.S. 234, which was brand new, and he’d say, “I want to go to that school.” We had no interest in kids at that point, but we really liked that school! Later he was an assistant U.S. attorney and worked at 100 Church, so he got to know the neighborhood, and a few years later my theater company was in residence at Soho Rep, so I got to know it a little, too. Plus, we’d been living in a loft in midtown and had really become loft dwellers—we just don’t get why you’d want crazy things like hallways or kitchen doors. When we knew time was running out on that apartment, we spent two years looking—more like waiting, watching the listings—for a cheap apartment to appear in the neighborhood (which at that time was rare, but still possible). And finally we got really, really lucky.

Any questions you wish you’d been asked?
What was your proudest Tribeca moment? When our small yet efficient apartment got to be on the loft tour last fall!

Previous TCQ&As:
Paulette Goto: “I Buy ‘Play-Date Punch’ at Chambers Street Wines”
Wendy Gardner: “I Bought a Stuffed Wombat at Moomah”
Dan Rubenstein: Kitchenette’s Turkey Meatloaf Is My Favorite
• Pam Chmiel: “I Wish I Could Renovate Pier A into a Waterfront Home”
• Jeff Tabak: “I’d Put the Sawdust Back on the Floor of Morgan’s”



  1. Couldn’t agree more about Sarabeth’s. Sometimes I feel like I never left the UES, and it’s so totally frustrating! And then I see the mounted cops go past, and smile.

  2. Couldn’t agree more about Sarabeth’s. Sometimes I feel like I never left the UES, and it’s so totally frustrating! And then I see the mounted cops go past, and smile.